Sunday, December 21, 2008

12 Days of Conscientious Christmas, Day 12

Christmas Stocking Place Cards Craft

Budget-friendly fun activity for crazed pre-Christmas kidz of all ages.

Supplies needed: 
felt stockings (found @ Michael's, .79 each)
individual sheets of felt in white, red, and orange
mini pompoms 
black pipe cleaners
"googly eyes"
mini jingle bells
craft glue
glittery stick-on letters 
any ribbon you have around for the scarf

My 9 year old and I were trying to come up with either place mat or place card ideas for our family Christmas dinner, which will include 13 of us, 5 of them kidz.  Since school's out now and every day we get closer to Christmas seems to mean less sleep and more energy, I thought having lots of crafts planned would be a good idea.  While shopping at Michael's we found the mini-stockings pictured above.  We already had a box of glittery letters at home from another craft (making holiday hats for a "fancy dress, crazy hat" party), so we decided we'd purchase 13 of these and decorate them and add an initial for each person at Christmas dinner.  The cool/practical/earth friendly part is that these mini stockings can be reused many different ways: as Christmas ornaments or holiday decor for the future; sticky letter can be removed and stocking makes great "giftwrap" for small items like gift cards; or they can be reused each year as place cards.

Now, don't tell my family, but I am hoping, if I have time, to buy 13 scratch lottery tickets.  I'll place one in each stocking, and who knows?  Maybe someone will win $5!

Here are the directions:

Gather the items in the supply list, above.
  1. Momz can make this process go easier by pre-cutting the shapes: Santa hat (red and white felt), snowman (white felt), carrot nose (orange felt), pipe-cleaner arms, ribbon pieces.  I used a number 8 cookie cutter for my snowman template, but you can do your own pattern. Older kidz might not need this help at all and can create their own ideas.
  2. I set out all the small supplies in little bowls for small hands to easily pick up.  I poured glue onto plates and gave them wooden skewers (sharp end cut off) to dip in the glue.
  3. Glue the pipe cleaner arms to the back of the snowman.  Then glue the snowman to the stocking.
  4. Glue the white band to the santa cap.  Glue the santa cap to the top of the snowman's head.
  5. Glue jingle bell to santa hat
  6. Add features: googly eyes, carrot nose, pompom mouth and buttons.
  7. tie small piece of ribbon in a knot and glue on for a scarf.
  8. Add sticky letter to personalize.
What's really cool about this is that there are endless possbilities! You can put the initial on the snowman's body, or do penguins or reindeer or santa instead.  You can add decorative ric-rac or make the stockings yourself from extra fabric you have lying around.  Enjoy!

Friday, December 19, 2008

12 Days of Conscientious Christmas, Day 11

More Creative Ideas on a Budget: family tree with photos and decorated photo frame.  Thanks to Michele in Southern California for these ideas.  

I think Michele and I bought the same tabletop Christmas tree; where I made home made cinnamon ornaments with my Nature Kidz, she had another idea: make a family tree!! She also embellished a picture frame as a gift. Here are her descriptions:

"I made “family tree”. I spent about $6.00 per tree at Target for table top trees. Then I used mostly old small ornaments that I hadn’t used in years to decorate them. Hot Glue is my favorite tool, and makes everything go faster and STICK…although if it is too hot, it will melt those little pine needles J To personalize them, I used a photoshop type program to blend family members into (free) ornament clip art, printed them up, and then hung the ornaments on the tree. Each of our family members are represented, plus, I used extended family photo on my SIL tree. I think these would also make a nice wreath…we debated, but decided on the tree this year.

My Sister-in-law’s mom is joining us for Christmas, and I don’t know her very well. I was loathe to get a bath and body set or candy, so instead I printed up a picture of my brother and her daughter, and put it in a frame that was going unused. I garnished the frame with small ornaments and garland to dress it up."

Michele also made a DVD with photos and accompanying music to send as a gift. I've done this as well--she even made custom DVD labels! It's very inexpensive and grandparents adore them. When I made mine (using my Mac, of course) it was so easy to sync the songs to the pictures. Plus, I was able to use the song that always make me think of each child ("She" by Elvis Costello and "Wonder" by Natalie Merchant) and play each song for photos of each child. With today's technology this is a really great, inexpensive and thoughtful gift. In my opinion, way better than a $50 tie made by 8 year olds in a developing country for .20 an hour!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

12 Days of Conscientious Christmas, Day 10

A two-fer: a socially conscious and eco-friendly way to recycle Christmas cards

My friend Michele McPherson sent me this information after reading my post about day 4 of the 12 days of conscientious Christmas.  Talk about your feel-good activity: send your old Christmas cards to St. Jude's Ranch for Children's Recycled Christmas Card program.  Cards can be accepted through the end of February 2009, and should be sent to:

St. Jude's Ranch for Children
Card Recycling Program
100 St. Jude's Street
Boulder City, NV 89005

From their webiste: 

"The children participate in making the new recycled cards by removing the front and attaching a new back made with recycled paper. The new card is a beautiful, 'green' card made by the children and volunteers. The benefits are two-fold: customers receive 'green' holiday cards for use and the children receive payment for their work and learn the benefits and importance of 'going green'".

And we, those who send our cards, get to feel good about being green and in helping a worthy cause.  St. Jude's Ranch rescues children from abusive situations.  Learn more about St. Jude's Ranch at their website.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

12 Days of Conscientious Christmas, Day 9

Make a donation in a gift recipient's name. 

 We recently received a notification that some dear friends had given a gift to Heifer International in our names.  We are thrilled! I keep hearing that food banks are running low, and foundations and university endowments are suffering too; in fact, just yesterday I heard about a foundation whose funding for the coming year is partially gone due to a scam artist's illegal scheme coming apart after the economy fell apart.

Times are tough for all of us, all over the world.  I love that someone, somewhere, will receive some bees thanks to our friends' thoughtfulness.  I plan to do the same for some gifts.  After all, do we really need another Chia Pet?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

12 Days of Conscientious Christmas, Day 8

Countertop Composter in Stainless Steel


Stainless for $45.99 or white Ceramic for $32.99 from Chef's Catalog

Stainless for $29.99 from Always Brilliant

Stainless for $39.99 from Chef Tools

I think this is a great Christmas gift, especially for the Mainstream Mom going Natural (like me!).  The items I listed above are attractive (there are plenty of ugly ones out there) to go with contemporary kitchen decor.  

I have to admit, composting has always overwhelmed me--for some reason it seems just too complex; can I pile stuff on existing compost?  How often do I turn it?  Should I add anything to it?  Online searches for information haven't helped much.  Plus, who wants to set aside compostables and have to haul them out to the pile 3 or more times a day? This seems like a great way to make that first step.  It's easy and convenient. Lately every time I pitch an eggshell in the garbage I think to myself: "gee, that really could be great compost material!"  This countertop composter might just work the lazies out enough for me to try composting.  After all, we plan to plant a veggie garden in the spring; we'll need it!

Monday, December 15, 2008

12 Days of Conscientious Christmas, Day 7

Hand Painted Gift Boxes, Cookies, and Ornaments.

These are some gift boxes I created which can be reused by the recipients.  I bought them at my local craft store along with the unpainted wooden ornaments.  My kidz painted the ornaments and I painted the boxes.  We've been baking loads of holiday cookies using all natural ingredients (see my recipe in an earlier post by clicking the "cookies" label to the right) and I decided this would be a great way to present them. The snowflake cookies got a box to match, as did the Christmas tree cookies.  The Kidz can really have fun with this, as they helped me make the cookies and then decorated them with royal icing (I have a new recipe--Alton Brown's--which I like a lot) and India Tree colored sprinkles.  It really bummed out my 9 year old that I couldn't find green sprinkles for the trees, so we did mix up some  of the India Tree blue and yellow natural food colors, and got a green similar to the color on the box above.  Not too bad!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

12 Days of Conscientious Christmas, Day 6

Send your own ElfYourself eCards
Totally Free, Holiday Card that's also incredibly fun to make.  Enjoy--then make your own!

12 Days of Conscientious Christmas, Day 5

Adorable Pasta Wreath, created by Heather and Kidz

I just love this wreath, and it's a great craft idea to do with kidz.  It's also an economical and fun twist on a holiday tradition--natural wreaths at my nearby grocery store were going for $30!  

If you're sensitive to artificial food coloring, you can use natural alternatives.  I didn't like the flavor of the India Tree food colors, but since this craft isn't for eating they might be the perfect option! Thank you, Heather, for sharing!
Pasta Wreath Directions

Pasta of choice (amount will vary depending upon the size wreath you make) I used two bags of egg noodles
green food coloring
large ziploc bags (one for each kid involved works well)
Paper towels
Large carboard
scissors or utility knife
2-3 Bottles of white glue (one for each kid involved works well)

Coloring Pasta:
• Pour pasta into large ziploc bags. Do no stuff the ziplocs. The pasta needs to be able to slide around.
• Add drops of food coloring to the bags, 5-10 drops to start. Again, it will all depend upon pasta variety used and quantity that you are coloring. I add 5-10 drops, close bag and shake, slide, jiggle, whatever for a few minutes to get an idea of the coverage. Add more if desired. Some recipes call for adding alcohol or vinegar. I've never used either.
• Spread out 2-3 layers of paper towels on counter.
• After achieving desired coloring and coverage of the food coloring on the pasta, pour and spread out the wet colored pasta onto the paper towels to dry. I let mine dry overnight.

• Decide what size you want your wreath to be. I traced around a large platter in order to draw the large circle. I then traced a smaller plate for the middle. Because I was trying to bulk up the wreath, I cut three of those circles of cardboard and then trimmed them each down to be a little smaller than the next. All three layers were glued together with white glue.

Glueing on the Pasta:
• First divided the fully dried colored pasta into two large bowls (one for each child).
• Next, I drizzled white glue to coat the cardboard base. Leaving very little cardboard showing through.
• Place colored pasta on glue cardboard base anywhere and everywhere. Initially the kids were tentative placing only one piece at a time, but they soon learned that would have taken them days and we simply had way too much pasta. They then started taking small handfuls of the colored pasta and placing them onto the base.
• I then went and balanced the pasta heaping mounds out around the entire wreath. It would have been a tad lopsided otherwise.
• All three of us took a glue bottle and started drizzling large heavy amounts of glue all over the wreath. I think we may have used 2.5-3 full bottles by the end of all of it. We were overly generous, but they were having a grand time!
• Let dry overnight.

• I bought a roll of ribbon from Target that has the wire inside it, so it was each to shape. After forming the bow, I hot glued it in place.

• With the smaller wreath I made (that broke in our move!) I was able to use a small loop decorative silver ribbon similar to the kind you would wrap a gift with.
• We now have a glass panels on our front door, so there is no way I'm hammering a nail in the front and needed to use a over the door wreath hanger. The wreath hanger I purchased did not accommodate the bulk of the wreath very well, so I needed to create a way to attach the wreath to the hanger. First off, the wreath's size made it too heavy for the decorative ribbon to hang with, so I went with a spool of thin wire. I looped it through the center hole and twisted the ends together. Had I considered this issue prior to assembling all the pasta, I might have tried to leave a smaller hole or attach something to the back of the cardboard that would have hidden the hanging aspect of the wreath much more discreetly.

• My kids absolutely loved this project and each wants to make one for their bedroom doors. We'll see!
• I've wondered about adding more "red" to the wreath. I chose a silver bow, but could have used red. My daughter suggested red balls on the wreath like berries. I have mixed feelings about it. I like being able to see the pasta. Boring, maybe. Maybe next year!

Friday, December 12, 2008

12 Days of Conscientious Christmas, Day 4

Green Christmas Cards

For day 4 I thought I'd write about how to green up a not very eco-conscious holiday tradition: Christmas cards.  I love them--getting and receiving--and have a tradition of my own where I always include the word "peace" in some form or fashion.  Before we moved from Florida, we also always featured photos of Nature Kidz at the beach.  But I never really thought much about earth friendly approaches to the tradition. So here are a few I've gathered:

  1. Send online cards via email.  This is not my favorite because I adore getting something--anything--in the mail that isn't a) junk or b) bills.  But it certainly cuts down on tree killing--you can include photos, holiday clip art, and the Christmas letter if you do those.
  2. Send postcards instead of folding cards in envelopes.  This is what we are doing this year.  Because we ran low on time and creativity, I used an online template from Vista Print.  They offer traditional Christmas cards but I went to their marketing materials section and found an oversized postcard with a holiday theme, added my own photo and sentiments, and ordered them.  You can even have them mail the cards for you! I ordered exactly as many as I need and will have no envelopes, so I am thinking I'm cutting back on tree killing.
  3. Reuse last year's cards.  In an article by Jane Paige in the  Carolina Parent magazine, one green idea is to make new cards from old by crafting your own cards on your own recycled paper, then gluing the paper to the old cards--giving you a sturdy foundation for your new card.  You can also cut up elements you like from old cards to make ornaments, gift tags, and more!
  4. Create a traditional card, but instead of printing out the annual Christmas letter, write the letter online and include a link to the site in your cards.  That way you save paper and printer ink, and can also upload photos and such onto your website.  There are lots of free blogging sites (like Blogger and Wordpress) that work great for this purpose.
  5. Get the kidz involved--buy some plain notecards and envelopes made from recycled paper (try Paperworks online if you don't have a local source) and have the kidz make their own cards.  You can have some photos printed up; set up a large table with magazines, old christmas cards, tags, colored papers, crayons, markers and even glitter and paint.  Kidz can glue the photos down and decorate the cards how they want.  If you have a sticker maker, kidz can cut out holiday images from magazines and turn them into stickers to put on the cards.  What fun!
Whatever you decide to do, and I'm sure most people have already gotten their cards in the mail (guilty sigh), have fun!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

12 Days of Conscientious Christmas, Day 3

Creative Gift Idea: hand-made plaque.

This plaque was made for me by a friend as a gift.  The day before Thanksgiving I marked the one-year anniversary of a breast cancer diagnosis, so this Christmas gift is especially meaningful to me.  And it's customized to me specifically--the quote ("She didn't just survive, she became") really pertains to the last year of my life.  I just adore sea horses, so she added that touch as well.

Sure, this kind of craft requires some artistic skill--having the eye to select the various elements--but it's essentially paint, paper, a good quote, and a small (approx. 5x7) canvas board, which can be framed or hung as is.  I'm planning to do something similar (but with less creativity) in my Kidz' bedroom: using a large white canvas board, I'll trace a relevant quote and fill it in with a paint pen (something like "whether you think you can or you can't, you are right" or "be the change you wish to see in the world").  Because they have a stripes-and-dots theme I'll probably add some different sized colorful circles/dots/bubbles.  Then I will paint a large rectangle about 3" larger on each size than the canvas board and hang the board in the center.  Voila! Wall art with extra meaning! (I'll post a photo when I get this done--I have to paint the walls their base color first as soon as I find a low-VOC paint dealer near me).

This particular gift is very special to me, because it came from a good friend who was there with me every step of the way through my illness.  And, more than anything, she took time, thought, and care to make something just for me that no one else in the world has.  

If you're not feeling as creative, here's another gift idea: go to one of those paint-your-own pottery stores with your own little Nature Kidz and paint some coffee mugs, tea-for-one sets, or cookies-for-santa platters for your home or the grandparentz, who probably don't need anything but gush wildly over anything made by their favorite little people.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

12 Days of Conscientious Christmas, Day 2

Adorable Gift/Shopping bags, $1.49 each at Toys R Us.

Well, today is day 2 of writing about little ideas to make change in our lives towards a more eco-friendly, natural holiday season.  I am having so much fun this year, decorating and shopping and all the usual stuff.  And certainly, my kidz will be receiving lots of the usual.  But small steps are what I'm all about.  

We've never given them much for holiday candy, though I know it's a big deal if the many aisles of Christmas-specific candy at Target are any indication.  I like to offer perhaps one small item, but virtually everything I pick up, even the fancy luxe versions of chocolates like Dove and Hershey's Select and Ghiardelli are loaded with artificial flavors (like petroleum-derived vanillin) and preservatives.  Yuck.  

But then I was at that famous Big-Box toy store, Toys R Us.  They've struggled in recent years thanks to Target and Walmart, but they seemed to be doing a brisk business.  I have a wooden advent box that I use every year (instead of the throw-away paper kind) and was seeking small items to put in it for the kidz.  And boy, was I in for a surprise at good old TRU--they had a huge display near the checkout of natural and organic and kid-friendly treats! I was shocked and thrilled. They offered Yummy Earth lollipops, Fruitabu fruit leather, and more!  

I also picked up the shopping bags featured in the picture above.  TRU had a pretty good assortment and the tag says 100% recyclable.  They are a nice size to hold gifts and later reuse as gift bags, or to repurpose as grocery or other shopping bags.  I plan to use them to wrap gifts, and who knows how their new owners will use them?  And if you've bought paper gift bags at Hallmark or elsewhere lately, you know that $1.49 is a bargain for one this large. These are readily available in many stores now, and most stores are selling them with their logo featured prominently (free advertising!).  I like these because instead of having a massive Toys R US logo they have bright, fun prints.  

So there you go--even the big box stores are making efforts toward eco-friendly living.  Green has definitely gone mainstream!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

12 Days of Conscientious Christmas, Day 1

Personlized Photo Bracelet, available at Karen's Kitsch

I promised to write about ideas for a holiday season that are thoughtful and creative and really bring the spirit of the season into our homes.  So I am going to expand on one idea each day.

Today, day one, I'm writing about an idea I have touched on before: shopping locally and with small businesses.  The local idea means that our purchases don't require shipping and therefore reduce energy use.  Small businesses suffer during economic downturns, since they aren't able to offer the "doorbuster" deals that people trample each other to get to in Wal*Mart.  But they also tend to offer interesting, artsy, fun products that you won't find in big box stores.

Now, I'm not renouncing my love of Target.  But I do believe that small efforts, done daily, can have positive impacts.  So here are some of my ideas:

  1. It's easier than ever to find small businesses thanks to the internet; you can even go local by checking the chamber of commerce or locally themed bulletin boards online like the forums at  
  2. find mom-run businesses and help a mother help her family.  Here's one I just love: Karen's Kitsch (see picture for an example of her work).  Karen makes gorgeous personalized jewelry.  Check out the site!
  3. I have a new favorite business: Just Write! stationery in Cary, NC.  I have been driving all of 5 minutes (saving the earth with the short drive!) to select gorgeous note cards and other stationery products as gifts; this local small business feels like what it is: it's staffed by personable, knowledgeable folks, and service is friendly and professional.  Plus, when I purchase notecards or other products which can be personalized, I get to choose the font and color for personalization--and it's free!  They have invitations, note cards, place cards, holiday cards, just about anything paper related.  If you're like me and not quite artsy enough to do it yourself, finding a great local stationer is a great way to go.
  4. For those nights you just can't cook because you're busy decorating or shopping for Christmas, visit your local pizza place.  Unlike employees at big chains, they are probably more willing and able to talk to you about allergy and natural food product concerns.  If pizza's not your thing, seek out a local restaurant that offers freshly made meals, or your local natural food store; many of these offer ready made or ready to cook dinners for a reasonable price.  I found this online listing of organic/natural restaurants in the US and Canada.
  5. Sure, kids aren't going to be thrilled about a jar of home made jam or hand-crafted Christmas cards, but there are alternatives to the usual stores for some of your shopping.  Believe it or not, there are still local toy stores out there.  I have been doing a lot of shopping at my local Learning Express store, which is a franchise but owned locally.  The toys there are usually more creative and learning-focused than your average TRU store, and I have even found organic baby toys there.  
That's it for my first day of Conscientious Christmas Thinking.  Send me ideas for the next 11!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Practical and Creative Ideas for the Holiday Season

Featured Photo:
Kristin Phillips' Home made Christmas Card. 
Here are the creator's own words describing how she made this card: 
"I stamped the reindeer image (Stampin' Up) on plain white cardstock with Nearly Navy Ink. I cut out the image and mounted it onto silver cardstock (Bazzil Basics). I stamped the upper corner o fhte same image again with Versamark Ink, making sure to get the little flower motif. I then embossed the image with silver embossing powder. I cut out the little flower motif using a 3/4" square punch and placed it over the original blue images with dimensional adhesive. I put the whole thing on a folded piece of dark blue cardstock (Bazzill Basics).  The glittery snowflakes are buttons (Dress it up) with the shanks removed."

Do you have a home made Christmas card you'd like to share?  Email it to me with your name, details about how it was made, and what inspired you to make it.

I promised that in this post I would start a list of creative, family-oriented, and/or green Christmas gifts and ideas, so here it is.  Send me your ideas on how you plan to spend the holidays and I'll add them to my list!
  1.  Make home made ornaments and bring the kids into the fun for a double benefit: family time + checking off some names on the Christmas list. Some specific ideas: applesauce/cinnamon ornaments (see previous post).  Use to decorate your tree, as gifts, or to tie to gifts as tags.
  2. Make personalized stationery.  If you're really crafty, make your own folded note cards and stamp or otherwise embellish them.  You can also go simpler and add a pretty monogram or personalization with your computer.  Tie with leftover grosgrain or giftwrap ribbon and you have a great gift.  
  3. Bake cookies and consider having a cookie exchange in the neighborhood or with family and friends. I like the neighborhood idea because it brings neighbors together during a festive season when people decorate their homes but it might be too cold to run into each other on the street regularly.  I'll have a separate post explaining the tradition. 
  4. Bake cookies as gifts.  Home made cookies are a great treat at the holidays.  Have the kids help decorate them.  To gussy them up, be sure to make up pretty recipe cards.  You can also buy simple cardboard boxes at your craft store for a couple of dollars, paint them with craft paints, and put the cookies in them and tie them up with a bow.  You can even trace cookie cutter outlines on the box to hint at what's inside! Then you have a beautiful gift box that can be reused for another purpose.
  5. Here's a great idea shared by Karen of Karen's Kitsch: buy cute shopping bags at stores (she saw some great ones at Ikea; a girlfriend of mine had the same idea and got some great ones at Trader Joe's) and use them as gift bags.  These bags are all the rage now at grocery stores, even at my local Hallmark!  So not only are you wrapping up a gift in an attractive fashion, you're giving the recipient a shopping bag for future use. How cool is that?  You can even find fabric bags in a variety of sizes at Oriental Trading in bulk.
  6. Use newspaper as gift wrap.  The comics are a colorful and fun way to reuse, and then recycle, your newspaper.  It's practical, it's funky, and it's eco-friendly.
  7. Have a clothing swap: find other Momz who are about your size and who have kidz who are either your kidz' size or one up/down.  Pull out the clothes that don't fit your kidz any more or those pieces that, let's face it, you bought and they just never wore.  Find things of your own that you bought without trying on and just didn't work; the shoes that turned out not to be as comfy on you as you thought; or things you might not have use for any more (such as business attire when you're working from home or in a less formal environment).  Have everyone over, make hot cocoa and offer some of your home made Christmas cookies, and go "shopping!"
  8. Make things from scratch. Yes, I know, you want to smack me. Who has time, especially during the holidays?  But if you can set aside a Sunday afternoon you can probably knock out several entrees in large batches and freeze them in portions sized for your family.  You can also save money this way--processed, prepackaged food is more expensive than buying whole ingredients.  We pay for convenience with our wallets and our health.  Make your own cocoa instead of buying the boxes with the mystery ingredients: Hershey's has the recipe right on the can and it's nothing more than milk, cocoa, sugar and vanilla.  My kidz love it! 
  9. If money's tight, make an agreement with the family that this year will truly be about the kids.  Skip the ties and the itchy sweaters for the adults and just do presents for the kids.  You'll save tons and have less "stuff" to clutter up your house.  Or, just do home made gifts that the kids had a hand in making.
  10. Make shadow box picture frames.  You can make them yourself or buy them at a craft store.  One year I bought smallish shadow box frames on sale (my craft stores are perpetually offering 40% off a single item coupons).  I used scrapbooking paper for a mat, mounted a photo of my children at the beach and a seashell or two they had collected, and personalized by writing or printing out a related quote on vellum.  Voila! A grandparent gift.  This is an especially good idea if you have pictures from a special time your kids spent with their grandparents.
I'll be writing more ideas in the coming days.  Do you have great holiday ideas?  Send them and I'll include them here!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

What is your Christmas message this year?

Mini Ornament Tree

Well, it seems that everywhere everyone is talking fearfully about this terrible economy, and I'm no exception.  Many people have said that they're cutting back for Christmas this year (and again, I'm no exception).  But it seems like the parking lots at retail outlets are as packed as I've ever seen them at the holidays, and the tensions are just as palpable (there was plenty of honking in the Target parking lot today).

So I have been thinking, rather than grouse about the economy or, for that matter, the angry shoppers at Big Box stores, why not think up some creative, fun ways to make the holidays festive?  The tree in this photo is an example of making the holidays fun with kids without enlisting the help of a game console or a trip to the mall.  My 9 year old had a sleepover last night, so I consoled 6 year old Nature Kid by promising some fun crafts this morning.   

All I did was put 1 cup of cinnamon, a cup of natural applesauce, and a squirt (oh, maybe a Tablespoon) of white Elmer's glue in a gallon zipper bag (you can put the ingredients in a mixing bowl if your child will tolerate hand mixing; mine will not).  Then my daughter got to squish and mush and have a great time mixing up the ingredients.  We popped the mixture in the fridge for about half an hour, then made it into a ball and rolled it out between two sheets of parchment paper like rolled cookie dough.  She selected her favorites out of our cookie cutter collection and proceeded to roll, cut, and set out to dry her creations.  These really required almost no help from me.  You can either dry them by leaving them out for a day or two, or pop them in a 200 degree oven for a couple of hours.  Then they're ready to decorate.

Nature Kid decided she wanted to make them into ornaments.  We then decided that, since it was her Aunt's birthday, she should make an ornament for each member of Auntie's family (uncle and 3 cousins).  Eventually the ornaments she chose for them got holes put in them (while still wet) with a skewer (toothpicks or straws work just as well) and, once dry, wrapping paper ribbon we had in the closet.  For a final touch I wrote the first initial of each person in gold pen.  While we were out at Target we saw the little trees on an endcap and decided one would be a great present to also showcase the ornaments for Auntie.  Sure, it's artificial, but on the up side she will be able to use it for many years and can put her own decorations on it or incorporate it into her holiday decor as she wishes...or pass it along to someone else!  With more time and forethought they could easily be incorporated into a natural wreath, door swag, or mini tree or rosemary bush.

Since completing that set, we've had a bunch of great ideas: Nature Kid 1 came home and wanted to help, so her little sister let her help by putting Elmer's glue on the remaining dried cookies with a paintbrush, and then sprinkling glitter on them to make them extra fancy.  In fact, the larger star Nature Kid 2 made will grace the top of our tree this year!

Here's what I am taking away from this little craft: that Christmas is not just about buying stuff and throwing it at already overpriveleged children, but it's also about sitting down and sharing time and creativity with those children.  I was thrilled to see how excited my daughter was to make all these ornaments and, even more so, that it was entirely her idea to make them for other people.  She chose each ornament for each cousin or aunt or uncle based on what she thought each would like.  She got to make something almost entirely on her own and really enjoy the experience.  As an added bonus, my house smells like cinnamon, which feels very nourishing and comforting.

Next post: ideas for a greener, more meaningful holiday season.  Send me yours!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Back to Basics: Simple Roast Chicken

With the pace of life being so frenetic these days, it seems like most of my recent years have been nourished (I use the term loosely) by bags of frozen food or semi-fast food.  While I feel okay about trips to Panera, with their fresh baked bread and organic options for the kids, I have to face facts: there are about 10,000 too many french fries in my family's past.  

As a mom who was working full time, running a household full time, and trying to be a full time mom (yes, I know, it's simply not possible), dinner time often got put on the back burner--or, rather, not on any burner at all; we ate a quick bite out or microwaved something.  These days life's pace is a little saner--not slow, I am still crazy busy, but I do have time to throw something in the oven while I work on my book and do other things.

While shopping the other day I saw something I hadn't noticed in many years--a simple whole chicken.  This is one of the easiest things to prepare, provided you have time, and it's nutritious and counts, in my book, as comfort food.  I bought an all-natural chicken with a little pop-up timer; to prep it I simply washed it, added some sea salt, pepper, and bay and parsley leaves, and popped it in the oven for a couple of hours.  Of course, I also basted it with real butter every half our or so.  I steamed some broccoli and roasted some potatoes and voila! a real dinner.  It was delicious, nourishing to the spirit and body, and, wonder of wonders, the Kidz ate it.

Ahhhh, happiness.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Below is a link to a great holiday resource: almost 300 alternative shopping ideas from Twitter Moms.  With the economy in so much trouble, I've been trying to shop locally and with small family-run businesses as much as possible; I have to worry that they will be the first to suffer.  Check out these shopping ideas--there are some wonderful, creative, and unique gift ideas, all from moms!